The Son Bunyola estate in Mallorca was a long-term passion project for the entrepreneur. It was well worth the wait, says Sarah Marshall…
They say good things come to those who wait, so it’s no wonder Sir Richard Branson is looking so pleased with himself. He has just unveiled the latest jewel in his empire – a head-turning hotel in Mallorca born from an extraordinary 25-year quest to make a dream come true.
A restored 16th-century finca set among 1,300 acres on the island’s scenic and unspoilt northwest coast, Son Bunyola is a real moment to savour for Branson, who first fell for Mallorca’s charm during holidays with his parents as a small boy.
Fast forward several ground-breaking – and lucrative – decades. Having conquered the record business and the skies, and even buying his own private Caribbean hideaway, the Virgin boss became besotted with the idea of opening a hotel on the island that had been the backdrop to so many magical memories.
He hit the jackpot in 1994, stumbling upon a sprawling estate located on a sublime stretch of shoreline backed by the rugged Tramuntana Mountains. At its heart stood a farmhouse, once home to local nobility and, much later, a working olive press before falling into disrepair.
“As soon as I saw the finca, I knew I wanted to bring it back to life and ensure this chapter of history wouldn’t be closed for good,” says Branson.
But failing to acquire the necessary permissions to operate it as a hotel forced him to sell it eight years later, only to buy it back in 2015 when work began in earnest to transform the estate into a retreat fit for a billionaire.
As Son Bunyola finally welcomes its first guests, there’s a big question hanging in the lavender-infused air: Has this passion project, a quarter of a century in the making, been worth it? There’s only one way to find out…
Visible from the iron gates at the very top of the long and vertiginous driveway, there’s a sense of occasion upon arriving at Son Bunyola. Terraced hillsides populated with citrus trees and olive groves tumble down the hillsides, but the real star is the beautifully restored finca, which looms larger and more impressive beyond each hairpin bend.
Up close it’s no less striking. A quiet and shady cobbled courtyard awaits beyond the entrance that leads out to a sweeping sun-filled wraparound terrace, with mountain and sea views lifted straight from a Disney film.
There’s everything you’d expect from a five-star property, from spa treatments using local beauty products to fine dining all delivered by a mostly Mallorcan team. This subtle approach to service – guests are not fawned over, instead encouraged to treat the estate as their home from home – creates a cosy feeling of peace and calm.
While 21st-century luxury touches are very much present, so too are heartfelt nods to days gone by. Many of the finca’s original features remain, including the floor tiles, historic olive press, and the 13th-century medieval defence tower which now houses two of the hotel’s 26 rooms and suites.
When it comes to bedding down, expect natural materials (terracotta flooring, exposed beams and chic white cotton drapes) set against a soothing and muted colour scheme that draws inspiration from Mallorca itself, with lots of blues and greens. Plus, with not a shred of single-use plastic in sight and all wastewater treated and reused to keep the gardens looking lush, the hotel is taking its responsibilities seriously.
There’s style as well as substance thanks to the art dotted around and the extremely Instagrammable swimming pool that stretches for 28 metres along the entire side of the hotel. A stone’s throw away is the super-sized hot tub strategically placed to make the most of the coastal views.
Food and drink
Guests can expect to dine on some of the freshest and tastiest dishes this side of Palma. Heading up the hotel’s culinary offering is Spanish executive chef Samuel G. Galdon, whose close personal connection to Mallorca is clear to see. Having worked at some of the island’s best restaurants – including Michelin-starred Es Raco d’es Teix – he has also shared kitchens with the likes of Raymond Blanc and Eckart Witzigmann and brings a refreshingly contemporary approach to classic cuisine.
The hotel’s two restaurants offer different dining experiences, from breezy lunches of organic sharing platters to evenings spent enjoying barbecued lobster, decadent seven-course tasting menus and delicate dishes such as mussels and samphire.
Best of all, much of the produce served – from the honey to the wild herbs – is sourced directly from the estate’s gardens and orchards and there are plans to start producing Malvasia wine, a tipple made from a native grape that was first sipped in 1275.
Barely a 40-minute drive from Palma, the hotel offers easy access to some of Mallorca’s most impressive natural wonders and charming communities. Dominating the region are the deep ravines and forested slopes of the Tramuntana Mountains, part of a protected UNESCO World Heritage site, where peaks soar from the sea to heights of over 1,400m. This is prime hiking territory and the trail between Soller and Cuber is a particular highlight, taking in resplendent reservoirs, canyons and, during springtime, waterfalls.
If your taste for adventure is a little on the softer side, grab one of the hotel’s e-bikes and enjoy a morning’s cycle to the Esporles, a sleepy village established by the Moors during the Middle Ages. Its handsome blonde stone buildings and elegant tree-lined main avenue make it a pleasing spot for a leisurely coffee and a spot of people-watching. The ride itself – one of Branson’s favourite things to do when he visits – is a love letter to the sheer beauty of this often-overlooked corner of the island.
Alternatively, stay even closer to home and stretch your legs along the trail that crisscrosses the Son Bunyola estate and weaves its way down towards its own private beach. Keep your eyes peeled for the friendly wild donkeys.
How to plan your trip
Doubles at Son Bunyola (0800 716 919; virginlimitededition.com/sonbunyola) start from £520 per night including breakfast and complimentary minibar.
easyJet (0330 551 5151; easyjet.com) has flights to Palma from airports across the UK from £58 return.